Sunday 17 December 2017

O'Donnell focusing on Munster to overcome Irish woe

Munster's Tommy O'Donnell. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Tommy O'Donnell. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

If you get Mick Galwey on a good night - as if there is any other with Gaillimh - there can be great slagging to be had about his decade-long career in green.

"Yerra, you only lasted that long because you kept getting yourself dropped!" Like most gentle slagging, there lies within a half grain of truth.

Despite his status as one of Ireland's leading warriors in those dark and dank 1990 days, by our reckoning he was unceremoniously dumped ten times for his country.

In the professional era, Geordan Murphy, a flowing enigma of a quite different hue, rivalled the Kerryman when it came to the wavering affections of his coach; he had to bite the bullet six times as he suffered for his art.

There are times when you wonder whether Tommy O'Donnell is emerging as a latter-day successor in the business of getting oneself out of a first 15 almost as quickly as one has managed to get oneself into it.

Since his debut under Joe Schmidt in 2014, O'Donnell has managed the quite considerable, if dubious, feat of being dropped four times; and twice in 2016.

A history of concussion might partly explain; so too a summer wedding; nonetheless, despite the fact that he has rarely dipped below the standards that earned him the call-up in the first place, his fitful international stint remains a head-scratcher.

"Selection is selection, I suppose," muses O'Donnell, in as close to a treasonous outburst one might hope for from an Irishman in temporary exile from Team Joe.

"I haven't really spoken too much to Joe Schmidt about it all. Obviously, these games coming up are key for us. And if you keep performing in these games, it is hard not to be in the mix.

"There is a long way to go before the next international window, so you have to keep performing and you never know what will happen."

Others before him - Munster mucker Simon Zebo is a startling example - have overcome Schmidt scepticism to thrive; in any case, the back-row remains a congested minefield and it's not as if the Tipp man hasn't enough to focus on in a red shirt these days.

"It's disappointing but I don't think I can get too down in the dumps about it," he demurs a tad. "I just need to keep performing and playing the best rugby that I can.

"These few weeks are massive for Munster so that is what I have to concentrate on. If you play well for Munster, you are putting your hand up for selection and that is all you can do."

A hectic two-month spell begins with a fine December tradition; the English arriving for a good old-fashioned European ding-dong, reviving memories of storied days for one teenager.

"I didn't know the intricacies of the old Thomond Park, I never had to scale the walls to get in, I'll leave that to Paul O'Connell. I got a plain old ticket!"

Irish Independent

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